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Navy resumes use of disputed Puerto Rican bombing range

May 8, 2000
Web posted at: 6:22 PM EDT (2222 GMT)

From CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S warplanes dropped "inert ordnance," or dummy bombs, on the disputed bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques on Monday, according to a spokesman from the U.S. Navy.

The bombing marked the first use of the range since protesters, who closed it down for a year, were removed last week by federal law enforcement authorities.

Navy spokesman Robert Nelson said two more protesters were detained on Monday before the warplanes, based at nearby Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, headed for the range. Nelson said the range was clear when the Navy planes dropped their loads.

"We continue to ensure the security of the range," Nelson said. "In addition to the two individuals detained today, we have not identified any additional personnel on the range."

More than 200 protesters were removed from the range in a raid staged by U.S. law enforcement officers on Thursday. Six more were detained on Friday and Saturday.

The protesters occupied the range last year after a pair of 500-pound bombs dropped by a Marine Corps F-14 missed their target on April 19, 1999, killing civilian security guard David Sanes Rodriguez.

The Navy halted its practice bombing runs after Rodriguez's death, while residents of the island and their supporters argued that the bombing had long damaged tourism, fishing, natural habitats and the health of the islanders.

But Navy officials replied that Vieques -- which has hosted preparations for every U.S.-involved military conflict since World War II -- was the only place where its fleet could practice air, land and sea operations simultaneously.

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello came to an agreement on January 31 allowing the Navy to resume its exercises with "dummy" bombs only, and giving the people of Vieques an opportunity to vote on whether the Navy should vacate by 2003.

Protesters blocked implementation of the deal, leading to last week's raid.

Most analysts expect the islanders to reject the U.S. military. The Navy has already acknowledged its failure to implement a 1983 accord, which committed it to promoting Vieques' economic development.



RELATED STORIES:
Lawmaker cautions U.S. about evicting Puerto Rico bombing range protesters
May 3, 2000
U.S. forces stationed off Vieques range; protesters brace for arrests
May 2, 2000
Navy ships bound for Puerto Rican island to clear protesters
April 28, 2000
U.S. military exercises to resume in Puerto Rico
January 1, 2000
U.S. defense secretary hopes to 'win over' Puerto Ricans on Vieques
December 3, 1999
Puerto Rican leaders reject Pentagon plan
October 19, 1999

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